The Republican presidential nominee hasn’t even been decided, but already a debate is under way about the 2013 inauguration. For the first time, the ceremony will fall on the Sunday of Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, complicating the inaugural festivities.
Next year will be only the seventh time since George Washington was first inaugurated that the constitutionally mandated inauguration date has fallen on a Sunday.
James Monroe, Zachary Taylor, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Woodrow Wilson all gave their inaugural addresses on March 5. Taylor, who should have taken the oath on March 4, waited a day because of the sabbath, leaving the country without a President for 24 hours; Hayes was sworn in on March 3, two days before his address.
Since the 20th Amendment established January 20 as the new date from 1937 onward, Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan contended with Sunday inaugurals–and each opted to deliver his address on Monday, January 21, hosting inaugural balls that evening.
November’s winner will contend with a new challenge: In 2013, January 21 is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a federal holiday since 1986, raising the question of whether the address and the balls should be delayed until Tuesday–or later. The Constitution says nothing about when the President’s traditional address must occur.
That potential inconvenience is good news to the local hospitality industry: Hoteliers are now pushing for the inaugural balls to be held the following weekend, allowing them to stretch out their high-dollar room rentals over more than a week.
The inaugural should be a bright spot for the industry: The Donovan House, near DC’s Thomas Circle, is advertising rates of $1,333 for inauguration night, while the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center’s is $599; rooms are generally around $190 there. The Best Western Pentagon-Reagan Airport has nearly doubled its rate to $296 a night. The Four Seasons in Georgetown already has a waiting list, regardless of who wins the election.
While crowds are unlikely to approach the roughly 1.5 million who attended Barack Obama’s 2009 inaugural, even George W. Bush’s second inaugural, in 2005, brought upward of 400,000 people to the District, pouring tens of millions into the local economy. Bush and Obama had to raise more than $40 million for their official festivities. For the District, the real payoff comes from the inauguration-watchers on the Mall and the ballgoers in the evening, who three years ago spent hundreds of millions at the peak of the recession.
When the presidential inaugural committee is formed later this year and settles the question of the schedule, it will have a precedent for separating the balls from the inaugural itself: The first-ever inaugural ball, for George Washington, wasn’t held until a week after he was sworn in as President in 1789.
This article appears in the April 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.